“I don’t know where I’d be without my little gem of a son.”

20 March 2020
Elly and her son outside.

Elly, 28, is a primary school learning support assistant, keen runner, and a single mum to bouncy nine-year-old Fin.

She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis 6 years ago. “Fin has helped me more than anything else, and got me through some of the hardest times,” she says.

This Mother’s Day, Elly tells us what life can be like for a mum living with arthritis, and how the help of Fin, family and friends has shaped her hopeful outlook on life.

“It’s taken a few years to get things under control.”

Accepting my diagnosis was difficult, because I was a regular gym goer and had been told for ages that my pain was just pulled muscles. Knowing it was a life-long condition with no cure left me feeling lost and helpless.

I wasn’t getting the right support in the beginning and felt like I wasn’t being properly heard by people. I would be told dismissive things like: “You’re far too young to have arthritis!” When you’re being driven crazy by constant pain, this lack of understanding makes life even harder.

After making little progress in one hospital due to staff shortages, I moved to another two years ago. There, I met my current rheumatologist, who’s amazing to say the least! I feel like I’m properly educated about my condition now, whereas before I had to rely a lot on my own research. She’s helped me bring things under control after 3 or 4 years of being in between medicines that weren’t working. One of the best parts of it all is that I’m back running again, which really helps manage my mental health and makes me happy.

Getting to where I am today wouldn’t have been possible without the loving support of family and friends, and my own determination to not give up hope, so I can still be the best Mum my son deserves.

“Fin is a little gem.”

When pain is a part of daily life, it’s hard to hide it from your child. There’ve been times when Fin, my son, has seen me sobbing because I can’t do anything about the pain. It’s obviously not what you want your child to see, but you don’t have much of a choice sometimes.

Fin is awesome, though. He doesn’t panic when I’m upset and he just wants to help. He’s been there to help me get up in the morning, grab water for me to take my tablets, and regularly helps with the shopping. As a parent, it’s hard to let your child support you, as you're programmed to always support them, but I don’t know where I’d be without him.

“I relish being able to teach him things.”

It’s meant that Fin has grown up a lot quicker than your average nine-year-old. Parents naturally do a lot for their kids when they’re young, like helping them get ready for school, brushing their teeth, making breakfast. Since the age of 5 or 6, Fin has learned to do a lot of that for himself, just in case there are days when I'm struggling to move.

He said to me the other day: “Even though I do get bored with chores, if it’s the last thing I want to do, then I’d always rather do it to help mum.” Like I said, he’s a little gem!

As a mum, I like to teach him things, like how to bake, iron or write lists. But I often think, if I had a really bad flare up and couldn’t work, then maybe I won’t be able to do this. It means I grab hold of those teaching moments when they happen. He asked me this week if he could learn to cook a meal from scratch!

“Explaining what’s going on is better than just saying ‘no’.”

Life can be busy for any parent, especially those with younger children. Young kids always want to do something, and there are times when we just say ‘no’ to things - like going to the park or making pancakes. Just saying no won’t help them understand, though. So I’ve always tried my best to give an explanation. If I’m in too much pain, I’ll find an appropriate way of telling Fin what’s going on.

He’s still a child and I acknowledge his emotions during my flare ups as well as my own. I've ensured he has his own support in place, so he can vent any build-up without worrying he’ll upset me, should he need to. His school provides fantastic emotional support, too.

“It’s hard to shift your mindset, but there are things out there that can make you feel hopeful.”

The key thing for me has always been to not lose hope.

It can be so easy to feel hopeless when you have an incurable condition like arthritis, because it feels like the pain and fatigue will never end. I've been there. But there’s so much support available. There are dedicated helplines, treatments you may not have tried, and some amazingly helpful people. I've even been offered tips in the supermarket and on Instagram by people with the same condition. It's a lovely, gentle reminder you're not alone.

Above all, having Fin and my family there when I’ve needed them has meant everything. Fin motivates me to keep positive, even on the bad days.

We’re here whenever you need us.

If you’re feeling isolated from family and friends during these uncertain times, we’re here for you.